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Tough task ahead as Arbery jury selection enters 2nd week

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 4:34 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. - The second week of jury selection started Monday morning in Brunswick for the three men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Right now, the pool count is at 23 potential jurors that have qualified out of four days of questioning. Dozens more will be needed before a final jury gets selected of 12 jurors and four alternates.

The jury questionnaire posted on the county’s website asks jurors if they have been following this case, how much have they heard from the media, what facts do they believe to be true, and have they seen the video of the February 23 shooting. It also asks that they share all of their social media accounts.

Court was in session four days last week. They did not meet on Friday because Judge Timothy Walmsley said one of the lawyers had a personal obligation.

Last week, the defense and prosecution asked one-on-one questions of potential jurors. That is what we expect to happen again this week and possibly into next week.

The fifth day of jury selection began at nine Monday morning.

Following the same format as last week, the prosecution and defense asked potential jurors questions to gauge things like how much they know about the case, the defendants and potential witnesses. As one juror was leaving after a one-on-one question session, Kevin Gough, an attorney representing William Bryan, told the court he saw Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus, nod at the prospective juror when he came in.

Gough made a similar objection last week, and told the judge Monday the subtle gestures are mildly concerning. Gough added he thinks the court should do something to make sure jurors aren’t being influenced. The prosecution said they never saw Marcus Arbery gesture towards jurors. Outside the courthouse during Monday’s lunch break, supporters of the Arbery family gave their thoughts on the objection.

“I mean it’s just, this hostility towards Mr. Arbery really needs to stop. I know that he’s trying to represent his client, but that doesn’t mean you get hostile to a family member of somebody who has been killed. That is so inappropriate and I am greatly distressed by it,” said Barbara Arnwine with the Transformative Justice Coalition.

Judge Walmsley told Bryan’s attorney his objection was noted and on the record, but he did not take any other action.

Tough task for attorneys

The judge and attorneys trying to seat a jury in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing aren’t finding many jury pool members who are blank slates in the case.

Jury selection resumes Monday in the slaying of Arbery, a Black man with family ties to the CSRA and who’s buried near Waynesboro. White father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael are accused of chasing down and killing Arbery, claiming they thought he was a burglar. Also charged is neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the incident on video.

Some people who last week were deemed fair-minded enough to serve on the jury still voiced opinions on the case or said they knew Arbery or the white men charged with chasing and shooting him.

One potential juror said she joined a bike ride to raise money for the slain Black man’s family.

Another said she has known one of the defendants, Greg McMichael, for 30 years because they worked together in the district attorney’s office.

Attorneys are sifting through 600 candidates to find 64 qualified potential jurors. From there, they’ll narrow that down to 16 — 12 jurors and four alternates. Right now, the pool count is at 23 potential jurors who have qualified.

There have been four days of jury selection so far.

The proceedings were on hold Friday due to a schedule conflict for one of the attorneys.

Attorneys are still divided on how transparency is affecting jury selection.

The judge on the case decided to allow records showing every motion in the case.

They’re posted on the Glynn County Courthouse’s website, and they include evidence the judge is not allowing in court — things the jury is not supposed to consider at all.

“The judge had the opportunity to restrict access to these records and chose not to, I guess in order to be transparent,” said Dr. Bruce Mallard, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Savannah State University. “And it certainly isn’t going to help. I’m not sure how much the average citizen can understand the motions, and therein may be a problem.”

The Glynn County court clerk’s office says it has the information online because it gets so many requests for it.

Earlier in the week, officials said jury selection could take up to two more weeks.

Mallard offered insight in the jury selection process.

“Sort of the honor system. Are you open minded? Has this coverage made your decision? Are you able to make a fair and objective decision,” said Mallard.

One potential juror said Thursday, during one-on-one questioning with the attorneys, they formed opinions in the case based on what they’ve seen in the news and watching videos, but said they would be willing to change their opinion based on evidence. Potential jurors were also asked if they looked at case documents online, five answered yes.

The trial is expected to last until mid-November.

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